ASHLEY HUTCHINGS – Paradise And Thorns (Talking Elephant TECD410)

Paradise And ThornsDivided into two discs, Gloucester Docks Revisited and Other Tales Of Love, Paradise And Thorns finds “the single most important figure in English folk rock” (© Bob Dylan) revisiting his seminal autobiographically- based 1987 solo work (already the subject of a live version and revised re-issue) in the wake of reuniting with the old flame (never identified but likely named Patricia) around which it was based and complementing this with a collection of his personal favourite love songs and stories.

Visiting the docks first, this is a sort of continuance of a previously unfinished story that mixes together past recordings, new material, readings and film clips, opening with an echoey Hutchings reading an extract from John Donne’s poem of parted but constant adulterous lovers ‘Elegie XII’ with JJ Stoney providing keyboard effects. It’s followed by a 1985 live recording of ‘Kitty Come Down The Lane’ by the Ashley Hutchings All Stars, featuring Clive Gregson and Polly Bolton, and, in turn, with another reading, this time ‘The Meadow’, a single line extract from Louis MacNeice’ ‘The Strings Are False’.

The first new recording comes with the pastoral ‘Art Nouveau’, exploring the woman as flower metaphor, co-written with Ken Nicol, sung by Barry Coope and featuring string quartet arrangement by Joe Broughton, with himself on violin and Jo Hamilton on viola.

Another reading, ‘St. Valentine Day Sonnet’, is one of Hutchings’ own, about getting a rose tattoo, written in the manner of Donne, then it’s back to 1987 and a recording of the bouncy ‘Trip To Bath’ by The Albion Dance Band, Bolton again on vocals. Jane Wildsmith provides the voice of Pat in ‘Sultana Cake’, a brief extract from a letter, then it’s into the second new song, Tim Walker on trombone and Chris Sheldon on banjo for the New Orleans-influenced ‘Cul-de-Sac’, a playfully wry reference to how the original romance ended. Another live recording, the lost relationship ‘Our Stolen Season’ comes from a 2000 Rainbow Chasers concert, Hamilton on vocal and Ruth Angell on violin, followed by the first of the film clips, a brief extract (in French but translated in the booklet) from Alain Resnais’ 1960 Last Year In Marienbad before Fred Claridge’s drums introduce the Western-movie soundtrack flavoured ‘Devil-may-care In Our Dancing Shoes’, a down to the crossroads lost souls number co-penned with son Blair Dunlop who also plays acoustic guitar, that brings Pat back into the picture with the lines “Years passed by, then out of the blue/ The call of the road and a text or two.”

Michael Maloney voices an excerpt from Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, followed by another French film clip, this time ‘It Was My Heart’ from Robert Bresson’s Les Dames du Boi de Boulogne, the screenplay by Cocteau. Then, preceded by a lengthy introduction in which Hutchings explains the background to Gloucester Docks (and the title’s links to both the psalm ‘By Waters Of Babylon’ and Elizabeth Smart’s ‘By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept’ as well as offering a Tristan and Isolde context to the story of doomed love), a 1988 All Stars concert recordings of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ featuring just Bolton and John Shepherd’s keyboard.

The last of the new songs, again written with Dunlop, and featuring both him and Nicol on electric guitars, brings things up to the present day with the lyrically optimistic ‘Thirty-two Years And A Lifetime’, which, after the initial set-up, breaks out into a punchy, upbeat folk-rock melody that may well have travelled over the Cork and Kerry mountains.

It ends with the brief spoken ‘Epilogue’ which brings the lost love back into his life, the pondered question “What is to become of us?” possibly answered as the tracks flows into an arrangement of the traditional ‘French Catholic Wedding Tune’ with Stoney on churchy organ and Becky Mills providing the choral vocals.

Having duly conjured a romantic glow, the second disc beats the heart with a collection of all new recordings, again intercut with clips and readings, that gets under way with rising star Kitty Macfarlane on acoustic singing her own ‘Avona And The Giant’, a song based around the legend of the Bristol giants Vincent and Goram and how, after losing the love of Avona, the latter through himself into the river, his torso forming the isles of Steepholm and Flatholm.

Macfarlane also closes the album, this time, preceded by an extract from the prologue to Romeo and Juliet, with her arrangement of ‘Fear No More The Heat O’ The Sun’ from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline.

In-between clips are taken from the 1932 film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s WWI story A Farewell To Arms with Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes, Tony Richardson’s 1968 Charge of the Light Brigade and, given the theme, what else but Bogart and Bacall in Casablanca, here in the form of the “I remember every detail” scene.

There’s readings too, Michael Maloney giving John Donne another outing with ‘Aire And Angells’, Hutching and cheering crowd with 30 seconds of ‘If Love Has Wings’ from The Marriage of Figaro (Beaumarchais not Mozart) and a brace of Chekhov with two extracts, pre and post-marriage, from the playful ‘Notes from the journal of a quick-tempered man’.

There’s only one previously releases track, ‘Welcome To The World’ taken from The Albion Band’s eponymous 1999 album, the remainder being all new material. Evoking formative Fairport folk rock and preceding the Donne, ‘Above The Angels’ is sung by Mills with Nicol and Dunlop on electric guitars and Stoney tinkling the piano, ‘If There’s No Other Way’ is an acoustic, strings-arranged Hutchings/Broughton ‘love in vain’ ballad with Bolton on soaring vocals and, revisiting bird imagery, simple acoustic ‘The Swift’, with its title wordplay, is written and sung by Mills.

There’s two traditional numbers, ‘Polly On The Shore’ (or at least an except therefrom) providing a solo showcase for Dunlop, accompanying himself on electric guitar, while, co-produced by Joe Boyd, ‘Sykaleshe’ is a love song performed in their native tongue by Albanian folk outfit Saz’iso, and which seems likely to be an outtake from their 2016 album At Least Wave Your Handkerchief At Me: The Joys and Sorrows of Southern Albanian Song. Which just leaves ‘Lost In The Haze’, father and son teaming for a first time ever I saw your face memory of first love recalling how Hutchings was smitten by a girl he met as part of a 1964 Methodist Youth Club ramble though Hertfordshire, immortalised in the photograph in the superb accompanying annotated hardback lyric booklet.

The original ‘By Gloucester Docks I sat down and wept’, released in 1987, ended on a painful note, but it finally now has a happy coda; after waiting by the Quay for 30 years, Hutchings’ ship has come in.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.ashleyhutchings.co.uk

As close as we can get to a relevant track – ‘Dancing Under The Rose – Again’:

Derbyshire stars at Derby Folk Festival

Derbyshire Folk Festival

Derbyshire is famous for many things to those in the know, but for the casual mainstream music fan the county that gave the world Rolls-Royce has added little to history’s record collection, aside from one hit wonders White Town and Candy Flip.

In folk circles, however, it is a different story and to mark the 12th year of the city’s folk festival it held its first-ever Made in Derbyshire evening, showcasing three of the county’s foremost talents.

It helps enormously that two of the talents are the festival’s patrons, five-time BBC Radio Two Folk Award winner John Tams and the highly féted Lucy Ward, with the trio completed by festival regulars and local favourites Cupola.

And so it was Cupola, the trio made up of Doug Ounson, Sarah Matthews and Oli Matthews, who kicked off the evening, good-humouredly persevering through the early gremlins in the sound system to showcase their mix of traditional three-part harmony English and European folk, drawing on a song list built up during their 10 year career.

Cupola are accomplished musicians with a worldwide following and this was just one of three different manifestations the band adopt. Later that evening they performed at another venue as DanceCupola, while halfway through their set they invited Lucy Ward on stage to form Cupola:Ward, performing the dark and twisted Willie’s Lady from their 2016 collaborative album Bluebell.

Their last song paved the way for DanceCupola by blending three up-tempo compositions written by Doug Ounson before the stage was set for John Tams, in tandem with long-time collaborator Barry Coope on keyboard.

Beginning with ‘Only Remembered’ from the National Theatre’s production of War Horse, John and Barry went onto deliver a virtuoso set interspersing their songs with easy and witty patter, passing comment on pretty much everything from John’s creaking limbs and forgetfulness to Teresa May and the parlous state of world politics.

Fitting to the geographical flavour of the night, John didn’t forget his roots, recalling a meeting 40 years ago at Sudbury Hall near Ashbourne with George Fradley from Cubley, before performing his song ‘Nowt Do To Wi’ Me’, with plenty of audience participation.

Later, he gave new life to Ewan McColl’s gorgeous ‘The Manchester Rambler’, inspired by the Kinder Mass Trespass of 1932, an act of civil disobedience on the slopes of Derbyshire’s highest peak which gave rise to the Ramblers Association. There was even time for a rendition of Lionel Richie’s ‘Hello’ – sung in a broad Derbyshire vernacular.

John and Barry brought their set to a close with ‘Will I See Thee More’ and ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’, earning a standing ovation and reasserting John’s status as Derby Folk Festival’s favourite eminence gris.

Lucy Ward

And so to Lucy Ward, the former local schoolgirl with four albums and a host of awards under her belt, who was back to the folk scene after a short hiatus.

Singing the stories of the people of Derbyshire is one of the joys of her career, Lucy had explained backstage before the show, especially her best-known composition Alice in the Bacon Box, which she has performed all over the world and which, inevitably, she performed in the heart of her home city too.

But first, with her customary greeting “Ay Up!” she began her set with material from her new album, Pretty Warnings, including ‘Silver Morning, Sunshine Child’, a tender and moving tribute to her 20-month-old son, and ‘Cold Caller’ – which, she explained, the audience was free to either interpret as a title inspired by the story within the song or by an unsolicited PPI inquiry.

Backed by her four-piece band, Lucy mixed up her set expertly, weaving in a jazzy feel to ‘Maria Martin’ and, by her own admission, a heavy glam rock influence on ‘Marching Through The Green Grass’.

And, just to keep the audience on their toes, she threw in a folk version of Elvis Presley’s ‘A Little Less Conversation’, a contrast to the heart-breaking content of ‘Mari Vach’, a bygone tragedy brought achingly to life.

Her performance was a prime example of someone totally at home – in more ways than one – and at the height of her powers, and as a showcase of Derbyshire’s musical talent, her triumphant return to action, John’s musicianship and storytelling and Cupola’s uplifting melodies, the evening was a resounding success.

Which makes it even more of a shame that such a friendly, well-run and increasingly popular event has to be held in large, slightly chilly, tent which, as John Tams had explained, is so because its usual venue, the city council-owned Assembly Rooms, is still closed following a fire in the neighbouring multi-storey car park in 2014.

“It stands like a large empty tomb,” he remarked, pointing out that to reopen it would apparently cost £10m, when, in his opinion, all it requires is a good going over inside with a dustpan and brush.

And so, while John wore a smart jacket and waistcoat and Lucy Ward looked every inch a star in a sparkling top, the audience who’d paid their money to enjoy their talents were doomed to sit hunched up in their coats to keep out the autumnal cold.

Fully four years after the fire, it all feels a bit embarrassing – the festival and its heroic organisers deserve so much better.

Simon Burch

Festival website: http://www.derbyfolkfestival.co.uk/

Here is the ‘dynamic duo’ performing “The Manchester Rambler” from the Gosport and Fareham Easter Festival back in 2007.

COOPE BOYES & SIMPSON – Coda (No Masters NMCD48)

CodaSubtitled A Concluding Event, Coda marks the beginning of the end for Coope Boyes & Simpson. They’ll be playing some gigs next year to say farewell and individually and collectively they are involved in numerous projects so I doubt we’ve seen the last of them. It’s hard to credit but they are all grandfathers and have been together as a trio for a quarter of a century but if this really is the end of the road it’s a damn good way to go out.

Coda feels very much like a CBS retrospective made up entirely of new songs. Themes and styles are drawn from every aspect of their career. The opening track, ‘The Avenging Angel’ is a lyric by Jim Boyes set to the tune of ‘Palms Of Victory’ – old hymn tunes are never too far away and there is much borrowing of traditional tunes here. The subject is the succession of wars in the Middle East and the song has the fire in its belly that was evident on their first album, Funny Old World.

From recent projects come ‘From Hereabout Hill/May Song’ sung in the Michael Morpurgo show Where My Wellies Take Me – another blend of modern and traditional – and Boo Hewerdine’s ‘The Man That I Am’, re-recorded from The Ballads Of Child Migration. The unadulterated tradition gives us ‘Napoleon’s Dream’ and ‘Flandyke Shore’ and Jim Boyes twice refers back to traditional themes. The first is ‘The Drovers’ Way’, a celebration of the green lanes that were the chief routes for moving livestock. There is a suggestion at the end that when everything goes pants the green lanes will reappear. The second is ‘The Bright Ploughshare’ which sounds a bit like the mythical rural idyll also seems to carry a warning for the future.

The trio takes a similar view of the fishing industry in ‘Bound By The Fishing’, playfully working in the names of musicians up and down the east coast. Lester Simpson’s ‘Twilight Hunter’ deconstructs Stan Rogers’ ‘Northwest  Passage’ as he considers the fate of the Inuit who are now becoming a tourist attraction and considers mass migration in ‘If We Were Them’. It’s not all deadly serious, however, and CBS return to Michael Marra with his delightfully surreal ‘Frida Kahlo’s Visit To The Taybridge Bar’.

There is directness to this album which takes the listener back to Barry, Jim and Lester’s early days as a trio. They have done much more complicated things: The Peace Concerts, Christmas shows, the Great War presentations and perhaps the ultimate in traditional singing that was Triple Echo but here we have three voices with those unmistakable harmonies aided only by “The No Master’s Voices” and you can guess who they might be. Coda is a glorious finale to a long career.

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ website: http://www.coopeboyesandsimpson.co.uk/

‘Anthem For A Planet’s Children’ – live:

Coope Boyes And Simpson – final album and farewell tour

Coope Boyes And Simpson

In 1993, three blokes from South Yorkshire and Derbyshire, with a name like a firm of solicitors, released an album of acappella songs full of social comment and (in the words of Folk Roots) ‘harmonies you could chew’.

They were, of course, Coope Boyes and Simpson, and the album was Funny Old World. Q Magazine named it as their Roots Album of the Year in 1994.

Now, twenty three years later, with a career that has encompassed at least a dozen albums, numerous tours and festival appearances, as well as a Folk Awards nomination, Coope Boyes and Simpson are set to release what will be their final studio album.

Coda will be a collection of songs, mainly self-penned or drawn from the tradition, covering issues such as refugees, Iraq and climate change. With an anger undimmed, Coope Boyes and Simpson are returning to their roots and completing the circle that started with Funny Old World.

The album is set for a September 2016 release, and Coope Boyes and Simpson will be undertaking a UK tour in October and November, with an album launch at Musicport.

May 2017 will see Coope Boyes and Simpson embark on their farewell tour at venues throughout the UK. The tour will be a celebration of their career, and will feature material from across their entire repertoire.

Coope, Simpson, Fraser and Freya: Hark Hark

CSFFHark Hark – a festive feast to send you into Christmas with a feelgood factor. A rich mixture of old and new with a firm foundation of traditional Yorkshire and Derbyshire carols, the album is augmented by spicy instrumentals showing the links between carols and dance tunes, along with humour, original songs and joyful instrumentals.

Christmas comes but once a year, which means we only get one chance annually to see the Coope, Simpson, Fraser & Freya Christmas show – a pity, since the eclectic, funny, poignant and clever mixture would work even stripped of its seasonal theme. Luckily, they are releasing an album which captures the magic of the show.

Hark HarkThis is not just a bunch of folk with good voices belting out traditional carols. It’s a welcoming hotch-potch of stories, poetry and jokes threaded through with carolling and wassailing, both acapella and accompanied by a proper bagful of instruments, blown, plucked, bowed and struck.

The show is rich in the Variety tradition – there are various nods to music hall – and steeped in folk’s past and present, and the way the show veers effortlessly between solemnity and silliness makes it a wonderful, and wonderfully warm, winter night out.

My favourite, favourite Carol Singers, (Natalie Wheen, Classic FM)

Artist/Label website: www.nomasters.co.uk

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